Sticks and stones

Airway Heights mom using “encouragement rocks” to combat bullying and increase kids’ self-esteem


Last updated 9/5/2019 at 9:48am


Staff Reporter

A newspaper-covered card table in Crystal Chutes’ living room is heaped with piles of small, clean rocks — most still varying shades of gray and brown, but with some popping out in bright colors with positive messages inscribed on the sides.

Chutes, a mom of three boys in Airway Heights, has kick-started her own neighborhood project using what she calls “encouragement rocks.” The rocks are painted with words of reassurance, and Chutes hopes carrying them will instill confidence and comfort in victims of bullying.

“As kids, we’re taught, ‘Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me,’” Chutes said. “But really, words do hurt, and we need to get out to the kids that if we’re using rocks wrong, we get hurt, and if we’re using words wrong, we get hurt.”

Chutes was inspired by her oldest son’s experience with bullying, in which he was “not just bullied, but tortured by other kids,” she said. So she’s spent the last few weeks before the start of school creating her own Rock Trading Post, a collection of painted rocks in her front yard just four doors down from the Airway Heights Fire Department.

“I want kids who are having a bad day or need some extra encouragement to come over and grab a rock,” she said. “If it’s for you, if it’s for someone else — just focus on encouraging each other instead of tearing each other down.”

Chutes and her children find rocks in their neighborhood (the best place is the field by the dog park, she says) then take them home to decorate and place outside, free for the taking. The small stones are things kids can take with them to school and pull out when they’re feeling sad, lonely or in need of extra encouragement.

The small reminder can have a big impact, Chutes said.

“I went through many homeless shelters as a child with a worry rock,” she said. “The one thing that made it through every shelter was that rock.”

And it’s not only for kids. Chutes said she has connected with several other parents through the rocks and their children are now bringing stones to add to the trading post. She also hopes to eventually work with local schools.

Most of all, she says, she wants bullied kids to know they are not alone.

“I want them to know they are not alone and we’re here to help them,” she said. “You’re smart. You’re beautiful. You’re brave. This is just to help them focus on the good.”

She encouraged children and parents to talk to someone if they or their child is experiencing bullying. She said talking to your child and your child’s friends is the most important tool for identifying bullying before it progresses.

“And always have the talk with your kids about how their words can hurt people, because sometimes we don’t realize our child is a problem,” she said. “I’m trying to find things to encourage myself too, because I’m guilty of using my words in wrong ways; I’ve hurt people I love with my words. Painting has really helped with not focusing on the bad things in life — feeling sad? Paint a rock.”

Chutes estimates she’s painted up to 94 rocks in one day, and local families have begun to stop by with artistic ideas or rocks of their own.

One little girl gave Chute a rock inscribed with, “Just keep swimming.”

“I think kids need to find the beauty in the world and in themselves,” Chutes said. “If we can do that, the world will be a better place.”

For more information about Chutes’ project, check out “Rubies Happy Rocks” on Facebook or email

Shannen Talbot can be reached at


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